Occidental Petroleum Corp. tapped former CEO Stephen Chazen to serve as its board chairman, the Houston-based oil and gas producer said March 24 confirming earlier reporting.
Chazen, who served as Occidental CEO from 2011 until his retirement in 2016, currently serves as chairman and CEO of Magnolia Oil & Gas Corp. He founded the independent oil producer with assets located in the Eagle Ford Shale and Austin Chalk formations in South Texas shortly after his retirement from Occidental.
The appointment, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on March 18, is believed to be done in hopes of appeasing Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor who has been battling the Occidental board over its 2019 acquisition of rival Anadarko Petroleum.
The acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum completed last August continues to burden Occidental’s balance sheet, “significantly compromising its financial flexibility to confront the collapse in oil prices,” said Andrew Brooks, vice president with Moody’s Investors Service, in a statement on March 18. As a result, Moody’s downgraded Occidental’s debt rating to “junk” status.
Despite being the largest oil and gas deal in the U.S. of the past decade, Moody’s cited the stress imposed on Occidental’s credit metrics by its purchase of Anadarko Petroleum to be approximately $40 billion in acquisition-related debt. The plunge in oil prices has also added to the company’s woes, with Occidental last week announcing plans to slash its dividend and implement further cost-cutting measures.
“The current macroenvironment is among the most difficult I have seen in my career,” Chazen said in a statement commenting on his appointment as Occidental’s board chairman on March 24. “I am confident that the board and this management team, led by Vicki Hollub, have the operational experience to guide Occidental through the challenges ahead, and my goal is to help them succeed.”
Chazen also noted his primary focus and occupation will remain as serving in the role of CEO of Magnolia.
“I will not serve as an employee or executive of Occidental on any basis, whether interim or permanent,” he added in his statement.
The Wall Street Journal was also the first to report that Occidental was nearing a truce in the proxy fight with Icahn earlier this week. If the settlement talks conclude successfully, Icahn associates Andrew Langham and Nicholas Graziano would get board seats, and Icahn would have a say in the naming of a third independent director, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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